Flynn proves own best lobbyist in successful bid for new taxes
WHEN Mayor Raymond L. Flynn leaves Boston's executive chair, he might want to consider becoming a lobbyist. Certainly he knows his way around Beacon Hill and through the Massachusetts lawmaking labyrinth as well as anyone.
The recent passage of the so-called Boston fiscal bailout legislation, signed into law July 11 by Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, is a tribute to the Flynn persuasive skills and his thorough understanding of the politicized inner workings of the Bay State Senate and House.
Unlike most of his mayoral predecessors, especially four-termer Kevin H. White, he did much of the selling himself.
The tax-authorization measure finally enacted is smaller and somewhat different from what the mayor proposed. But its passage was a significant accomplishment.
It clears the way for Boston to pick up an estimated $21 million a year through a 5 percent levy on jet fuel and a 4 percent hotel-motel room-occupancy tax, and it permits other cities and towns to tap these revenue sources.
Thus for the first time, state lawmakers, on a local-option basis, have extended the municipal taxing power beyond real estate assessments.
Despite some legislative skepticism that the move would benefit only Boston, it could also possibly help other revenue-squeezed cities and towns help themselves.
As politically repugnant as the idea of raising new taxes is, getting the votes for this particular measure was made a bit easier by the likelihood that most of the funds raised would come from out-of-staters. That argument was used by Mayor Flynn, Governor Dukakis, and others who stood solidly behind the legislation.
The mayor's original local-option revenue-expansion package had included a 5 percent parking excise fee and an entertainment admissions tax, as well as the hotel-motel rooms tax. But opposition to all but the latter was considerable. Had he insisted on that proposal, projected to net Boston in excess of $40 million annually, there is little doubt that he and the city would still be emptyhanded.
Last fall a Flynn bid for municipal authority to impose a parking excise tax in Boston was rejected by the House, largely because of the outcry from suburban representatives and their constituents. Nevertheless, the mayor came within a handful of votes of clearing the first hurdle with that proposal.
The fact that Flynn is a former state representative, and thus no stranger to legislators whose backing he needs, no doubt aided him in his pursuits. House Speaker George Keverian (D) of Everett and Senate President William M. Bulger (D) of Boston made it clear early on, as did Dukakis, that they favored opening new income sources for Boston.
But Flynn didn't just count on his past ties to the State House. He first sprinted about the commonwealth building grass-roots backing in business and civic communities for new revenues.
Some who may never before have seen a real live Boston mayor became convinced that the capital city both needed and deserved financial help and that Flynn was committed to putting his city's financial house in order.
The result was a more favorable climate toward Boston by at least some of the folks back home, and that made it easier for some state lawmakers to vote for the mayor's legislation.
The new 4 percent municipal hotel-motel levy, added to the existing 5.7 percent assessed by the state, means that lodgers in Boston or any other community exercising this local option will pay a 9.7 percent tax on such accommodations. This is the highest in New England; Connecticut, at 7.5 percent, had been the region's leader.
City and state officials don't see the rooms tax or the jet-fuel tax, which could yield about $20 million annually for Boston, as harming the city's tourism.
The new taxes, combined with the $21.1 million in increased state aid, will give Boston some $41 million more in fiscal 1986 than it had in the year that ended June 30.
There is probably no limit to how much funding Boston or any other city would spend if available. But it behooves the Flynn administration to run a tight fiscal ship and make the best use of every penny and in the process avoid the patronage temptation.
As good a persuader as he is, the mayor must now prove that he is also a good financial manager who will say ``no'' to those at City Hall with pet projects.